Natural healing: Hole's Meadow
PUBLISHED: 11:33 17 July 2017
Catherine Courtenay discovers peace and calm in Fi Reddaway's garden on the edge of Dartmoor
The directions to Hole’s Meadow take me along a narrow path that twists and turns between a network of little back gardens. It’s a bit of an adventure in a Secret Garden kind of way; but eventually I reach a hedge and five bar gate and as I go through, garden owner Fi Reddaway emerges from her ‘office’ to greet me.
Hole’s Meadow covers almost two acres, formed from two medieval burgage plots behind the houses in the centre of the village of South Zeal. From the garden shed office and across the formal beds, the site slopes down through an orchard to a rocky stream, beyond which is a newly planted woodland area. In the distance, over a stone wall and hedge boundary the land rises towards the impressive Cawsand Beacon, a reminder of this garden’s close proximity to Dartmoor.
Fi has created a herb garden with around 250 varieties, including two Plant Heritage National Collections of Monarda (bergamot, bee balm) and Nepeta (catmint). The herbs are interspersed with flowers, a mixture of ornamental and native trees, shrubs and a vegetable garden.
Her route into gardening began with her first patch of land at her first home and she developed an interest in herbs early on. Rather than following the norm in gardening style, and having read Chris Baines’ landmark 1985 book How To Make a Wildlife Garden, she was an early advocate of removing lawns and would plant herbs instead, being fascinated with both their beauty and the ways they have been used over the centuries.
“These are plants which have beauty, scent and can be good for us and our homes; and they were all there to discover, with their colloquial names. Take lungwort - however did people know it was good for chests?!” she marvels.
She’d studied home economics at university and eventually came to Devon where she worked for South West Food and Drink. She moved to South Zeal, having fallen in love with the Hole’s Meadow site, which at the time was mostly a field.
Then she fell ill with ME, or chronic fatigue syndrome, which causes persistent fatigue and exhaustion. Unable to work she found peace and respite in her beloved garden.
She set about absorbing the history and traditions associated with herbs and she gradually built up collections of Nepeta and Monarda, which became listed as National Collections. In the end though, it was the “growing and sharing” that really inspired her, along with an ever-increasing concern for wildlife and the natural environment.
With the help of husband Paul, Fi has made changes to the garden this year, to increase its wildlife-friendliness. Her Nepeta and Monarda collections are precious, but she’s aware that row upon row of the same genus can look a little bland, so having safely set aside her key collection in pots, she’s showing how they can be interspersed with other plants, creating more interest and variety. A bed of Nepeta for example is flecked with the striking forms of alliums, which provide height, colour contrast and importantly, won’t spread. Beds are lined with further herbs, like garlic chives, hedge germander and pennyroyal, even Nepeta is used as an edging plant.
She’s created a prairie-style garden for the Monardas: “They are so attractive en masse, just so beautiful.” The area is set out with drifts of fennel, Verbascum, Rudbeckia, Dierama and Miscanthus.
Fi says she never set out with an aim; her gardening style has gently evolved over the years and Hole’s Meadow is the latest incarnation, but it seems she’s always held a core belief.
“I want to create a place of beauty a place of contemplation, meditation and calm and one which supports wildlife.”
Some days Fi can’t go into her garden, her exhaustion confining her to bed. She has to constantly rest and has various places around the garden where she can sleep.
“However do you manage to keep the garden going?” I ask.
Paul is on hand with all the heavy manual work, she tells me, and then there’s “the lesson of the old boys,” she knowingly smiles.
“Hoeing. It’s the key, it really is. Don’t let it come up, keep hoeing.”
I can’t help but think how distressing it would be to be so tired you can’t lift a finger, particularly when the garden is crying out for attention; but Fi is remarkably calm and gracious about her situation and she’s a firm believer in the health benefits, both physical and emotional, of being in a garden.
“Being in nature is therapeutic and beneficial. It’s enabled me to build a future, a calmer and happier future,” she says.
“It’s a sense of nature and the calm it gives you. If everyone knew about this, the world would be a much better place, don’t you think?”
Hole’s Meadow is open on 22, 23 and 30 July (11-5pm) as part of the National Open Garden Scheme. Also on 18 June for the South Zeal and District Open Garden Day.
Fi’s favourite plant families
‘All of these are hugely beneficial to wildlife, but another great thing in common is that there are absolutely loads of cultivars of each to choose from’
Allium: for their architectural elegance and their ability to complement herbaceous planting schemes.
Dahlia: they are so joyous, floriferous and offer extended late season colour.
Hardy geraniums: for their ease of cultivation and all round usefulness.
Achillea: there are colours to go with all planting designs and they are really easy
Echinacea (coneflower): although not always easy to grow and not damp tolerant, the effort is outweighed by the sheer beauty of the flower’s form.